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Kalamazoo waitress receives the 'biggest tip of her life'

Mary Lively, a waitress at Theo & Stacy's, shows off her $1,000 tip from seven strangers ahead of Christmas. Smiley says she's going to use the money to pay off some bills and buy her family presents. (WWMT/Jake Berent)

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Sometimes there's nothing like the kindness of a stranger to give your heart a special feeling. Sometimes a gift is so great it touches the lives of both the giver and the recipient, and inspires others to imitate that kindness.

That's what Mike "Tonto" Alexander was hoping to do when he walked in to Theo & Stacy's Restaurant in Kalamazoo Monday morning with six of his friends. They had one mission: make a waitress' day.

That waitress happened to be one of the most cheerful people in the service industry. In fact, her personality is so bright and smiley, it's no surprise her name is Mary Lively.

"I've been here since '94," said Lively as she wiped tables clean.

More than three decades later, Lively says she found she had a knack for serving people early on in her career.

"I like the people, I enjoy serving people food. That's what I know, that's what I've done all my life," said Lively.

She's made a good living as a waitress, but like so many of us, she struggles with bills from time to time. She said she has a car payment that was due in the next week, and was going to use her tip money to pay the bill.

The good news for Lively, however, is that she said diners are usually in a little better mood around the holiday season.

"And they're hurry, hurry, because they want to eat and get going, but they're usually a little bit more generous," said Lively.

But she never thought they could be THIS generous.

Seven men, led by Alexander, sat down and had breakfast at Theo & Stacy's on that slow Monday morning. They paid their $70 tab and waited until Mary came back with their change to give her a tip. But the tip didn't come from the few dollars and cents Mary handed them.

Instead, Alexander pulled out a red envelope from his pocket.

"Mary, you'd probably like this tip a lot better.... Merry Christmas!" Alexander said to Lively.

"Who's this from? You guys? I'm.. umm... breathless," Lively said as she stood in shock.

She took a close look at the bills to make sure they were real. After Alexander and his group joked that they "just printed them off," they told Lively that yes, the 10 $100 bills they just handed her were in fact real.

Mary had to step outside and take a breath of fresh air to grasp what had happened. She had just received a $1,000 tip from seven strangers.

Mike "Tonto" Alexander says he had heard some of his other friends performing the same gesture -- each throwing in over $100 to tip a random server $1,000 -- and wanted to do the same in Kalamazoo.

"I thought it was a great idea. So I told my friends, and they're super guys, and said 'Guys, we should do it in Kalamazoo.' They all said, 'I'm in, I'm in,'" said Alexander.

Alexander says he knows Theo & Stacy's have done a lot for Kalamazoo and chose the local restaurant for their great reputation and generosity.

"They have given so much back every year, feeding the homeless. I thought, 'Why don't we do something nice for a waitress at Theo & Stacy's?'" said Alexander.

He says that it was no trouble convincing his six friends to chip in and sign a card that would make someone's day.

"None of us are going to miss that $100, but whoever gets that $1,000, it'll have a nice impact on them," said Alexander.

Mary's got that car bill, and a few others to pay off with her $1,000 tip. But after that she said she'll spend what's leftover on presents for her family.

"All these years being a waitress I finally got a bonus!" said Lively. "A good one too!"

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